Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 155 / AUGUST 1993 / PAGE 102

Disk Manager. (hard disk installation utility) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Tom Campbell

Disk Manager saved my skin.

As a fairly competent programmer and an acknowledged power user, I tend to be pretty good at diagnosing problems, weighing the values of various solutions, and advising others on both hardware and software matters. So the other night when my system hung and the IDE hard drive died while I was racing for a deadline, I was calm and collected enough to do what few of my peers would do in that situation ... I panicked. Some heretofore unknown Mr. Hyde leapt out from a deep crevasse within my soul and took over my consciousness. When I awoke, I realized I had done a FORMAT C: on my hard drive. This isn't a problem with most hard disks, but IDE drives are a noteworthy exception. Doing a low-level format is a no-no, rendering the disk unusable.

Unless you have the astounding Disk Manager, which saved my bacon at 3:30 the next morning. Disk Manager would be worth its price if only for that feature because the IDE manual mentions dispassionately that the only recourse to a formatted IDE is to send the drive back to its manufacturer. Not a good sign when it's 3:30 a.m. and your deadline is at 7:30. But Disk Manager does a lot more than just low-level-format IDE drives. It will do the same for any ST506, ESDI, IDE, or SCSI drive. It will add a soft extension to your BIOS to tweak drives with more than 1024 cylinders, allow you to boot from up to four operating systems, repartition your disk, change the interleave and cluster sizes for each partition, and more. It even checks itself for a virus infection on startup.

The documentation is much too slim, relying almost solely on the online help, which isn't the greatest. It has no index and omits a lot of tutorial information that, say, the Norton Utilities and many similar programs offer. And some of the items simply aren't covered at all. For example, the Machine Information option gathers certain version data from the BIOS and DOS and displays it without explanation.

The online help gives only vague information about that particular feature, so I'll test you: Do you know what the "Model byte" is? I didn't think so. (It's a byte written into the BIOS by IBM; for example, 255 means it's an original PC, 254 designates an XT, and so on.) Not only that, but the model byte is given in hexadecimal or base 16 notation, so you're shown not the value 255, but FF, which is 255 in base 16.

Another problem is that the sequence of a particularly crucial set of operations (Initialize Disk Surface, Defect Management, and Verify Disk Surface) all listed on the same menu wasn't given in the online help and certainly not in the manual, so I had to learn by time-consuming (and potentially dangerous) trial and error. In other words, you'd better be a power user if you buy this product because the documentation doesn't take your hand and lead you through each step the way Norton does. (To be fair, Disk Manager's manual states that you're expected to be an advanced DOS user, and Disk Manager handles many cases that Norton doesn't. For example, it can read the disk even without a partition.)

But what Disk Manager does, it does very well. It dispatched with the low-level format of both my 212MB hard drives quickly and efficiently. Ditto for the resuscitation of the old Seagate hard disk on my seven-year-old AT, which I'd planned to shoot and bury in the backyard. It also determined correctly the disk types of several other machines I tried, although it lets you override parameters that you determine to be incorrect.

Other miscellaneous features are equally useful. For example, you can write-protect whole sections of your disk. While there's no password protection or encryption involved, this is enough to prevent the casual or even accidental tampering that can trash a disk in seconds flat. Another fairly advanced feature is the ability to alter the cluster size of your hard disk (in English, that means you can choose between speed and more efficient use of hard disk space).

Disk Manager is a great companion to higher-level disk-recover tools like Norton or PC Tools. If you're comfortable enough around DOS and PC hardware to know whether you need it, Disk Manager does the job.